Penitential Days

The divine precept of conversion through penance and self-denial has an important role to play in the Christian life. Penance is above all a religious act which has as its aim love and surrender to God; without this aim penance becomes an act of mere formalism and pharisaism openly condemned by Jesus Christ. The new Code of Canon Law states that:  

1. The days and times of penance in the whole Church are every Friday of the year and the whole season of Lent.

2. Abstinence is to be observed on each Friday of the year, unless a Solemnity (Special Feast) falls on this day. The law of abstinence binds all who are over the age of 14 years.

3. Fast and abstinence are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday of each year. The law of fast binds all those who are over the age of 18 years and have not yet reached their 60th year.   

Abstinence means the giving up of eating meat. Fasting permits the eating of one full meal. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs; but, together, they should not equal a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted; but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.     

By virtue of the powers conferred by the new Code, bishops have the authority to determine more precisely how the common observance of penance is to be carried out in their dioceses.  

A.   According to a regulation laid down by the late Cardinal John B. Wu, the faithful may be dispensed from abstinence on Fridays, on condition that on these days they perform special acts of charity or piety, such as making personal sacrifices in the matter of food, alcoholic drink, smoking, or spending less time on amusements (eg. watching T.V., playing majong, etc.), or making a sacrifice of their free time in serving the poor, the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the needy.   In addition to this, during Lent, they are exhorted to make a special effort in the practice of works of piety, such as daily Mass, daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament or the Stations of the Cross.

B.   As regards the Fast and Abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, according to a regulation laid down by the late Cardinal John B. Wu, the traditional fast and abstinence are to be kept on these two days. However, when Ash Wednesday coincides with the Lunar New Year’s celebrations all are dispensed from fast and abstinence on that day. In this case one should decide for oneself some other suitable forms of penance, or make a donation to the poor. To make the penitential spirit reality in our daily lives, the faithful should choose for themselves some from of self-denial for the penitential days, and put it into practice faithfully.

Note: Pastors and parents should see to it that those not bound by the law of abstinence and fast are educated in an authentic sense of penance.